Monday, December 21, 2009

Counting birds for Christmas

For 110 years citizen scientists have joined the National Audubon Society to brave the December and January cold to perform surveys of wintering birds in an event called the Christmas Bird Count. Each participating location chooses a date between December 15 and January 4th to hold their event. Yesterday was the Boise Christmas Bird Count and I was out there counting.

Park Center Pond just after sunrise.

The event includes trying to count every bird in a 24km (15 mile) diameter circle. This includes splitting up into teams. We had about 40 volunteers split up into 13 teams. Each team was assigned and area and headed out before sunrise to begin the count. I joined up with my good friends Jay and Heidi to begin our count. We would be responsible for SE Boise between the river and the freeway.

Adult Bald Eagle on Boise River.

The Boise River is a great place any time of year, but is especially nice in the winter. Bald Eagles fly right through town. This is one of four we would count.

Adult Bald Eagle.

Most of the day would be overcast, although not too cold and little wind. The sun did peak out just enough to provide me some great lighting for this magnificent bird. Another great sighting along the river was finding 4 species in a single tree - Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Black-capped Chickadee.

Adult Bald Eagle.

Unfortunately we were limited on time, so we had to move on. Canvasing the territory we would find at least 3 large groups of Cedar Waxwings including 100-150 birds each. In each one Jay could hear at least one Bohemian Waxwing, but we couldn't quite pick it out in the flock due to the lighting.

Cedar Waxwings with at least 1 Bohemian Waxwing

This particular flock was raiding a berry tree in someone's yard. It was also closely watched by a Sharp-shinned Hawk and a Cooper's Hawk! Later in the day we would return to this tree to see that all of the Cedar Waxwings had flown off leaving two Bohemians sitting in the top of the tree.

Downy Woodpecker.

By noon we had count 50 species within our group, including lots of raptors as we moved out across the desert southeast of Boise. Hiking out on the old Oregon Trail overlooking the Boise River we picked up a couple of species not always seen around here - the Canyon Wren and two American Dippers.

Canyon Wren.

Unfortunately due to other commitments I had to leave the count at 4pm. Karyn came out to pick me up and we counted two additional spots along our route home. At the first spot we found a few of my favorite waterfowl, the Hooded Merganser. There were two males and two females. The males were displaying. It was an impressive sight.

Male Hooded Mergansers displaying.

After a few minutes they realized that the females had lost interest and swam off. They ended the displays and swam in pursuit.

Hooded Mergansers.

My un-official tally for our group was 57 species by the time I had to leave, with bird counts in the many thousands. Its great to be able to contribute to such an important tradition and important survey. It was also a great day to spend outside with friends with lots of great sightings.


Birding is Fun! said...

Awesome photos of the Hoodies!

Jay's ability to pick out birds by sound impresses the heck out of me!

Unknown said...

It looks like you had a wonderful time with the CBC this year and you had some great results. I enjoy reading your blog "from afar" and can't even remember how I stumbled upon it. This was my husband and I's first year's CBC in Charleston, OR (at SSNERR). Love your photos! I hope we're able to make it out to the IBO at some point during migration - it seems pretty incredible to work there.